Vita Island Game Club: An End-of-the-Year Retrospective

Header image for the Vita Island Game Club december pick, which features a player's choice game.
Source: @VitaGameClub

In early 2020, @GideonOnGaming had the great idea to start a virtual game club. The concept is similar to a book club, but instead of reading books we all play a chosen game and discuss it online at the end of each month. Naturally, I was thrilled to sign up! Anything where video games are treated as the literature they are is going to be right up my alley. Gideon has said that, "The general idea was a way for us to try to fit more Vita games into our catalogue. A way to encourage ourselves and others to play the Vita games we may have missed." Personally, the club has been a way for me to keep playing my Vita even after most gamers have moved on to other consoles.

Because we are all diehard fans of the Playstation Vita, we decided to focus our club on games that can be played on the Vita. This doesn't mean that you have to actually play said game ON your Playstation Vita, however -- if you own the game on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Steam, or any other platform, it is perfectly acceptable to play on your platform of choice. The Vita Island Game Club doesn't judge! 

The concept of "Vita Island" was first discussed on the podcast PS I Love You XOXO, and has come to represent Vita players who feel stranded on a desert island by lack of support for the console from Sony, as well as lack of a large player community (though the community that does exist is quite dedicated!). 

In February 2020, we played our first game: Claire. Over the months we played a great variety of games, all short enough that they can be comfortably finished within the month. The games we played in 2021 are as follows:

January: Rayman Origins
February: Odin Sphere
March: Papers, Please
April: Superbeat: Xonic
May: Ys I
June: Drive Girls
July: Fighting Climax
August: Russian Subway Dogs
September: Mary Skelter Nightmares
October: Dead Nation
November: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
December: Player's Choice (Catch up on a game you didn't finish.)

For this end of the year retrospective, I asked members of the Vita Island Game Club to talk about their experience, especially with a favorite game we played this year. Below are the responses I received.

Source: @VitaGameClub

From @GideonOnGaming:

The appeal of the Vita Island Game Club is it encourages me to try games I otherwise wouldn’t have or encourages me to play a game I haven’t been able to fit it into my gaming regimen. One such game is Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. I’ve played Street Fighter x Tekken and DOA5 on the Vita but had not played any of the 2D fighters. While I enjoy fighting games, I tend to stick to the 3D ones because the 2D fighting games seem to cater more to the “serious” fighting game community, which I am not part of.

I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible Fighting Climax was. I only ended up playing through the arcade mode a couple of times. I didn’t get proficient at the fighting but I was able to cheese my way through battles easily enough. It seemed like one of those games that if you fought against someone who knew what they were doing you wouldn’t be able to land many hits.

I was unfamiliar with a vast majority of the characters on the roster which is an ensemble cast of existing characters from multiple properties. Learning about these characters lead me to some unfamiliar anime like Shakugan no Shana and The Devil Is a Part-Timer. This was an unintended benefit of the game. 

I was able to play an online match with another member of the Vita Island Game Club. While the connection wasn’t great, it was a fun experience. Aside from the couple of matches with the VIGC member I was unable to find a match, which is not at all surprising. A benefit of the VIGC is a willing group of people who are currently playing the same game as you.

While I probably won’t put any significant time into Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax in the future, I look forward to the next time the VIGV chooses a fighting game to play.

Source: @VitaGameClub

From @Dustman_B:

When it comes to the Vita Island game club there are two things that stand out to me.

 1. It's a great community with some wonderful people I'm very happy to have met.
 2. It really makes me play games I've overlooked or hesitated playing in the past.

I had previously played a few of the games that we played this year, and while they were still fun to go back to, the game that really made me shake my head asking myself why I didn't play it sooner is Uncharted Golden Abyss.

Yes that Uncharted. A game widely regarded as a system seller and known as one of the best games on the Vita, that I've owned since 2012. I put it off, because I generally really have a distaste for touch control. I heard Uncharted was full of them and that they were really distracting and off putting. A gimmick for the sake of having gimmicks that show off the Vita.

Some of that was true. They were obviously put in to show off the Vita's capabilities, but surprisingly I didn't mind most of them. Uncharted on Vita is a fantastic game through and through. A great story, fantastic voice work, and just fun to play. Some of the touch controls feel good and while some do feel a bit wonky, it doesn't really detract from the overall experience.  Without VIGC this game would probably still be collecting dust on the back of my shelf, and that's just really sad.

Source: @VitaGameClub

From @Schyzo99:

Papers, Please! Papers, Please!

This sounds like an injunction, an injunction to comply. It also clearly states who is in control, and let me tell you, you're not in control! But guess what? The one in control may not be who you think it is!

Papers, Please is an award winning game developed by Lucas Pope where you take the role of an immigration officer, checking the required official documents and deciding on the fate of the immigrants requesting passage.

It starts as an ordinary game where you try to do your best and just comply with the rules, allowing people in or just refusing entry whenever they don't have the right ever-changing documents. Nonetheless, the life of an immigration control officer is not that easy in the country of Arstotzka. Life is tough for everyone: immigrants and yourself. You will rapidly understand your role may not only be to be a diligent gate keeper acting like a robot. Your feelings, your awareness of your surroundings and the political climate will soon bring you to answer an unsolvable dilemma… 

Beyond the amazing gameplay mimicking the actual mess on your desk as well as the challenge to keep up with the new regulations published on a daily basis, you will soon have to find your own balance and goals and decide how your own personality and values contribute to your story. Each decision will guide your life, as well as your family depending on you to provide food and shelter. Making money by taking bribes, putting in jail innocent people, being the instrument of the party or helping terrorists are some of the decisions you will be making by accepting or refusing entry. 

Which of your family, your country or your values will you follow? What kind of person are you? Will you even stay alive? If you want to find out, please play this absolute masterpiece which is Papers, Please! I rarely played a game which has an amazing gameplay but also so many things to say.  

Papers, please is one of the games that moved me. I felt like beyond just having fun playing the game, it was telling me something, trying to make me think about difficult situations that occur in our real world. Not telling me what to think but smartly questioning my own preconceptions. In this sense, Papers, please is more than a game but a piece of art.

PS: if you wish to get a feel of the atmosphere, you should also check out Papers, Please! The short movie.


Source: @VitaGameClub

@vitagamergeorge had to get something off their chest with a bit of a different perspective on one of the games we played:

As many people on Twitter, I spend a not insignificant portion of my time becoming outraged at things people say on the virtual message board. Infamously, we are meant to let people enjoy things. But I can't. I can't let it stand that people promote Drive Girls as a viable part of the Vita library when there are so many better options. Do you like driving? Try Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed, Horizon Chase Turbo or Need For Speed: Most Wanted. You like mech fighters? How about Shin Gundam Musou, Super Robot Wars X or Muv Luv Alternative. Or let's be honest you just like cute big tiddy anime girls? Senran Kagura, Hyperdimension Neptunia and Monster Monpiece all exist. WHY WOULD DRIVE GIRLS BE THE HILL THAT YOU DIE ON?!?

So on this public platform let me tell you all why you are not allowed to enjoy Drive Girls. The story is repetitive, trite and nothing emotionally interesting or new. The characters are bland and unmemorable. The driving has absolutely no nuance to it, no difference between how the cars drive, controls are basic and the road is so littered with mines that it doesn't make sense to use this mode either way. The fighting is also basic. You can get annoyingly stun locked going from full health to death without reprieve, and if you spam the heavy attack you can do the same to the enemies. Oh yea, and it lags absolutely horrifically, and with sound effects that annoying it's a game best played on mute. If you play it at all.

On my journey to play the whole of the Vita library I have no regrets on sampling Drive Girls, but it is a fate I don't wish to put others through.


Source: @VitaGameClub

 Finally, for my own retrospective (@videogamesaslit), I chose Mary Skelter Nightmares:

The Vita Island Game Club has helped me play a lot of Vita games that I may otherwise have overlooked in my gaming journey. Mary Skelter Nightmares is a game that I was always interested in playing, especially since it is so famed for the rarity of its physical edition, but I may have easily passed it by and forgotten about its existence since it is not one that the online gaming community often discusses. From the moment I first started playing the game, the thing that most struck me was the soundtrack. The music in this game hit me with serious nostalgic feels, such that I could have sworn the composer must have been Tenpei Sato, famous for his work with developer Nippon Ichi. While Tenpei Sato was not connected to this project, I suspect he was the source of strong inspiration for Mary Skelter's music team. The music, characters, and color scheme in the game also strongly reminded me of the Nintendo DS game A Witch's Tale, which was another nostalgic favorite of mine from the early days of my serious game collecting journey. While the story of Mary Skelter has some of the oddities that its developer, Compile Heart, is often notorious for, I am really glad that I got the push to actually play this game, and I can definitely say that I enjoyed it.

I can't wait to see what the new year brings as we continue to play the Playstation Vita long after Sony's declaration of its demise! I'm sure we will find many options to choose from as we play our way through the year 2022.